A brand relationship is a trust relationship. But somehow, we seem to forget this truth in the rush to do anything that technology allows – social media or otherwise.
For example, I ran into this intriguing article in the NYTimes about the creepiness of some of the newest web ads – the ones that follow you. Note that the article isn’t talking about nefarious advertising scams from the kings of spam. These efforts are often sponsored by major brands and corporations (Zappos among others).
But ad stalking that violates brand trust is found many more places than what’s described in this article. In social media, targeted Facebook advertising is often creepy. (I’ve started taking specific information out of my profile. And any brand that uses my Facebook profile to overtly target advertising gets a knock down in my book.)
Beyond “ad stalking”, I’ve noticed that many automated link sponsorships are brand bombs. For example, while reading a serious article on Excite.com about school integration recently, my cursor traced across the word “integration” whereby an ad for Hewlett-Packard’s “integrated systems” came up and wouldn’t go away easily. Ouch. Does HP need to grub for money that badly?
And, in social media, brands have rushed to use “bait and switch” techniques pioneered by their ad agencies. The theory is that consumers want “content”. So agencies write self-serving articles they call content. Then attempt “viral messages” whose role is to sucker people into reading the content. The true result? A violation of trust.
Some may argue that these are errors and not the natural result of these technologies. Possibly. There is a subtle line that separates, for example, reasonable Facebook advertising from those that feel creepy. And, in the article I reference, the advertisers might have been able to create advertising with the same impact, but where the consumer wasn’t put off.
But I think the error is unavoidable. Brands are bombarded with an amazing array of “targeted” ad opportunities. And, their agencies jump at them as fast as they can – before anyone has learned (a) whether the media is effective and (b) whether advertising through it is effective.
It’s worse because venture funded media companies, usually supported by designer research from so-called “analyst” organizations, try to build frenzy for their new media with the idea that each brand must “establish it’s place in the new space before it’s too late”. Bull. A couple of decades of new media experience has now thoroughly proven that a brand’s opportunity in ANY new media space ain’t going away – unless the media companies fail (in which case it doesn’t matter).
So it’s time to sit back. Wise brands protect and grow their trust relationships with consumers. And, as we found out in the internet gold rush, they know it’s never too late to establish a unique branded spot in new media. (Don’t tell me they need to stay ahead of the competition. Competitors who get into a new media first usually waste their head-start on false starts trying to make that media meaningful.)
This post may get me a bit of a “curmudgeon” nod from the technigentsia. But so be it. If we’ve learned anything in the past 20 years, it’s that conservatism is smart when looking at new media. Brand relationships build over years and decades.
You can afford to wait a couple of years to “establish your space” in Silicon Valley’s latest scheme to make venture capitalists rich. But you can’t afford to destroy decades of hard won consumer trust with poorly considered advertising through new media.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett